Australia

The expert whose work sparked the Afghan war crimes report says the alleged conduct is ‘unbelievable’

An expert whose work helped to spark a major inquiry into the alleged misconduct of Australian soldiers in Afghanistan has described the allegations as “deeply shameful” and “unbelievable”. 

Canberra military sociologist Dr Samantha Crompvoets was commissioned by military chief Angus Campbell to undertake a review into the culture of special forces soldiers in mid 2015.

She began to hear about potential alleged war crimes by members of the elite Special Operations Task Group through her interviews with Special Forces insiders, and delivered her report in 2016. 

Dr Crompvoets’ work sparked the long-running Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force Afghanistan Inquiry report, which was released on Thursday. 

The heavily redacted findings of the inquiry, conducted by Major General Paul Brereton, depict a harrowing account of allegations of grave misconduct by SAS soldiers in Afghanistan, detailing “credible” evidence of 39 unlawful killings of Afghan civilians or prisoners. 

Details of Dr Crompvoets’ report was outlined in the Brereton inquiry, including allegations of Afghan teenagers having their throats slit after questioning, and soldiers allegedly opening fire on men, women and children.

One Special Forces insider allegedly told Dr Crompvoets: “Guys just had this blood lust. Psychos. Absolute Psychos. And we bred them.” 

Speaking to SBS News following the release of the report on Thursday, she described the alleged conduct detailed in the Brereton report as “deeply shameful”.

“The words in the (Brereton) report I think sum it up … words like disgraceful, shameful,” she said. 

“It’s unbelievable, actually, that it has occurred.”

Dr Crompvoets claims the most shocking part of her interviews was not the particular incidents themselves, but that they were described to her as normal and recurring.

“That was really the most distressing [part],” she said.

“They go to the worst of war crimes that we’ve heard about in history. This wasn’t something that was about the fog of war or in the heat of battle. These are things that were deliberate and repeated, and … really well concealed.”

Touching on her investigation, the Brereton inquiry detailed allegations of how Australian Special Forces soldiers would open fire on Afghan men, women and children as they ran away when soldiers came in by helicopter. 

It said Dr Crompvoets’ report said the soldiers would then “contrive a plausible excuse” to substantiate the shootings, such as that the alleged victims were “running away from us to their weapons caches”.

“One example related to ‘squirters’ – a reference to villagers running away when a force was inserted by helicopter. The scenario conveyed to Dr Crompvoets was that Special Forces would open fire, killing men (and sometimes women and children), as they ran away,” the report said. 

“Dr Crompvoets was told that, after squirters were ‘dealt’ with, Special Forces would then cordon of a whole village, taking men and boys to guesthouses, which are typically on the edge of a village.

“There they would be tied up and tortured by Special Forces, sometimes for days. When the Special Forces left, the men and boys would be found dead: shot in the head or blindfolded and with throats slit.”

In another incident, the report detailed that Dr Crompvoets was told how two 14-year-old boys were stopped and searched by SAS soldiers, before having their throats slit. 

“The rest of the Troop then had to ‘clean up the mess’, which involved bagging the bodies and throwing them into a nearby river,” the report said.

“In this context, Dr Crompvoets says she was told that Special Forces soldiers were committing unsanctioned killing in order to ‘get a name for themselves’ and to join the ‘in’ group.”

The report said Dr Crompvoets “did not detail any specific incident,” nor “identify any perpetrator or unit involved”. 

“Rather, she described the information she received as ‘a whole lot of vague, nameless scenarios’ in conversations which she characterised as ‘off the record’,” it said. 

Chief of the Australian Defence Force General Angus Campbell delivers the findings from the Afghanistan Inquiry in Canberra.

AAP

Dr Crompvoets said she worried the reputation of the Australian Defence Force has been tarnished, but that many other countries may now be looking into their forces as well. 

“I’m sure it wasn’t just confined to Australian troops and I think also that there’ll be other militaries that will also be questioning… if their soldiers … could have done anything similar,” she said. 

 

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